A new report claims that a Colombian loan shark network is operating in more than three quarters of Mexico's states, a further indication that these lucrative schemes are expanding their illicit operations throughout Latin America.
Mexican authorities have apparently identified a Colombian loan sharking network of over 1,800 foreigners whose tentacles spreads across Latin America, according to a report by the National Migration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migración - INM) and Mexico's Interior Ministry (Secretaría de Gobernación - SEGOB) that was accessed by Milenio.
In and around the Mexican capital, the network's lenders -- who are hired and brought from Colombia to Mexico -- offer credit to workers or small commercial establishments with a 20 percent interest rate for 20 days, according to the report. But if there is a delay in payment, the victims are threatened, robbed or sometimes attacked.
The group allegedly operates in 24 of Mexico's 31 states, including Mexico City and the State of Mexico, as well as nine other countries in Latin America.
(Graphic c/o Milenio)
The network is reportedly protected by a group of some 30 police officers led by the "Carmona" brothers. These officers apparently charge the network a fee to avoid arrest, and report to the group's purported leader, Ángela Adriana Alzate Ayala, alias "Angie," according to Milenio.
The loan shark operation allegedly functions with the protection of the Tláhuac Cartel -- formally led by Felipe de Jesús Pérez Luna, alias "El Ojos," before he was killed in a shootout with Mexican marines in Mexico City in July -- and the La Unión de Tepito criminal group. According to the report, the Tláhuac Cartel is a branch of the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) and is now being led by Felipe Pérez, alias "El Felipillo," Milenio reported.
The loan network has a hierarchical structure, with the chief organizers at the top, followed by trusted supervisors, lenders and employees who visit clients to lend and collect money, and finally those who are in charge of promoting the loans at the bottom.
Since 2015, authorities have reportedly deported 135 lenders related to these activities in Mexico City and the State of Mexico.
There have already been indications that Colombian loan sharks were present in Mexico. In 2015, five Colombians who may have participated in a loan collection scheme were found killed in Veracruz, Mexico.
InSight Crime Analysis
Colombian loan sharking networks, which stem back to at least the 1980s, have been expanding their presence throughout Latin America in recent years. This trend is understandable given that the scheme has several key advantages: it can be relatively cheap to set up, the model can be replicated far and wide and, perhaps most importantly, it can be used to launder criminal profits. This particular Mexico City area organization allegedly has ties to groups involved in extortion, theft, homicide, drug trafficking and kidnapping, and uses the loan-debt system to launder dirty money.
SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profiles
It is unclear whether or not the 1,800 people "linked" to Mexico City's loan sharks are part of a coordinated organization spanning nearly a dozen countries. Such a scheme would suggest a far higher level of sophistication than the local units that have long operated in Colombia. Nevertheless, the "network" identified by Mexican authorities may well be little more than individual cells in multiple countries using the same successful modus operandi.